The reality of bovine TB on Welsh farms is being misrepresented by selective reporting of the data by the Welsh government, says the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW).

It comes after a statement by rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths in which she said that long-term trends show fewer affected herds and new herd incidents across Wales.

But what she didn’t point out was that the number of TB cattle culls had actually increased in three of Wales’ five TB regions.

At 554%, the highest increase was recorded in the low TB area and there were increases recorded too in the Intermediate Mid and the Intermediate North - 16.8% and 141%, respectively.

In the High East and High West regions there were decreases in the number of cattle slaughtered.

In her statement, Ms Griffiths said: “New herd incidents have decreased by over 18% in the 12 months to June this year, when compared to the same period five years ago, and the number of animals slaughtered for TB control has also decreased by almost 5%.’’

She also said that there were “positive trends’’ in the high TB area west, where the number of new incidents has decreased by over 25% when compared to the same period over five years ago.

The FUW said her comments were “overly positive” and distorted the reality of bovine TB on Welsh farms.

The union had analysed official Defra data, compiling a regionalised breakdown of the number of cattle slaughtered in the 12 months to June 2023 and comparing it to 2017 data.

Only two regions, High East and High West, saw decreases in the number of cattle slaughtered.

Dr Hazel Wright, FUW acting head of policy, said this resulted in a pan-Wales figure of 5% in the reduction in the number of cattle slaughtered.

The union questioned why the Welsh government had reintroduced pre-movement testing for cattle movements within and from the low TB area and why it had extended the requirement for post-movement testing in the intermediate TB areas from 1 February 2024.

Between 2017 and 2022, there were 576 reactors, 610 inconclusive reactors (IRs) and 49 direct contacts recorded out of a total number of 864,034 pre-movement tests.

Over the same period, 52,962 post-movement tests detected just 10 reactors and 22 IRs.

“If you’re a cattle farmer in Anglesey and you know the situation is getting worse in your area because you have had a TB herd breakdown and you know several other farms that have had new breakdowns, seeing these pan-Wales statistics can be really infuriating,’’ said Dr Wright.

“We believe the statement should have openly recognised this variation by acknowledging the 554% rise in Anglesey.

“To state that 5% less cattle are being slaughtered overall just doesn’t reflect what’s happening on the ground.”

In response, the Welsh government said that overall, across Wales, progress was being made in tackling bovine TB, with new herd incidents decreasing over the long-term.

“It is also fully recognised that the TB situation varies across different parts of Wales, as well as the impact of bovine TB on the health and wellbeing of our farmers and their families,’’ said a spokesperson.

“We are taking a more targeted approach in certain areas, such as Anglesey, to deal with increases in disease. This, in turn, can result in more new herd incidents in the area as infection is identified.’’

The government also highlighted the industry-led Pembrokeshire Project, where vets and farmers are working together to explore new and collaborative approaches to tackle TB at a local level.

“Farmers working closely with their vet is crucial to both protect herds and keep TB out, as well as tackling the disease if it does occur,’’ said the government spokesperson.

The figures

The number of new TB herd incidents in the 12 months to the end of September 2023 increased by 6% year on year with decreases in two TB areas offset by increases in the other three areas.

At 9,669, Wales saw an increase of 2% overall in the number of TB-infected cattle slaughtered between October 2022 and September 2023 compared to 9,505 in the previous 12 months.

Herd prevalence increased from to 5.4% from 5%.